Today I want to look at the last sentence from the Exodus text we have been studying, “He does not leave the guilty unpunished…” Believe it or not, coming to know God as Righteous Judge will cause you to love Him just as much as knowing God as Loving Father will. It will also cause you to fear Him properly, which is not a bad thing as one might suppose, but is “the beginning of wisdom,” Psalm 111:10 and Proverbs 9:10.
Many people rightly fear coming to know God as Judge because they are painfully aware of their own sinfulness. It is true, coming before a Righteous Judge should strike abject terror into the heart of an unrepentant sinner, but that isn’t you – not if you have accepted Jesus as Lord and are following Him.
“But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known… This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe… For all have sinned… and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Jesus. God presented him as the one who would turn aside His wrath, taking away sin, through faith in his blood.” Romans 3:21-25a alternate translation.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” Romans 5:1. (Romans 5:1-11 is an especially helpful passage if you need reassurance that you are justified, “made right,” with God.)
So, what does this mean? How is this supposed to help us grow in love for God?
First, it means that you are justified. All of the sins you have committed are atoned for. (If you aren’t familiar with the term “atone” think of your sins as racking up debt with God. “Atonement” means that Jesus paid your credit card bill.) It means that you can come before a holy and righteous God without fear of punishment. 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” God loves us with a perfect love and this is realized in our lives through faith in Jesus. Therefore, we do not have to be afraid of God as the Righteous Judge, because our sins have already been atoned for and there is nothing left to judge!
(Now, it must be said that we can and will sin repeatedly throughout our lives, but as long as we are faithful to confess our sins and walk out repentance, we are restored to right relationship and are blameless in God’s sight once more.)
Second, it means that God, as Judge, is on your side. This is the Truth that really helps us to grow in love for God. Our view of God as Righteous Judge should not invoke the image of an angry deity looking to smite you. Instead, it should invoke the image of an indignant father standing protectively over you and bringing justice down upon those who have hurt you. You see, you are God’s precious child, pure and blameless in His sight. Therefore, whoever sins against you has to answer to Big Papa God, and He ain’t happy.
Do you see how that revelation causes us to grow in affection for our Father? Do you see how you don’t have to fear His righteous judgment on you, but that you should fear for, and therefore intercede fervently for, your enemies and all who wrong you?
If the image of a Father protecting and vindicating His children doesn’t move your heart, perhaps another image will. Elsewhere in the Bible, the Church is called the Bride of Christ. Though we do not have a sensual/sexual relationship with Jesus, imagine how a husband would feel, and what he would do, if he walked into his home to find someone attempting to rape his wife. That is the fury that is in the heart of the Righteous Judge against all who sin against His bride.
God loves us deeply and will vigorously work to make things right on our behalf, if not in this age then certainly in the Age to come. But we must not get carried away with this revelation and lose sight of the mercy that was first shown to us. At one point we were also enemies of God who harmed His people and that wrath could have been poured out on us if it weren’t for the sacrificial love of Jesus. It is possible to become to “familiar” with the Judge and take our salvation for granted. We are in grave danger if we ever come to a place where we feel entitled to God’s mercy. In order to drive that point home, Jesus tells “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant,” in Matthew 18:23-35.
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him millions of dollars was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a few dollars. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
(And then the kicker…)
This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
In His mercy, God canceled our million dollar debt through the sacrifice of Jesus. We have been forgiven much, therefore we must love much and be quick to forgive. In fact, our forgiveness depends (yes, depends!) on our forgiving others. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Meaning, ‘God, to the extent that I forgive others, forgive me in the same way.’ Jesus reinforces this point when he says, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive you your sins.“
So how do we bring this to a close? How do we grow in love for our Father as the Righteous Judge, yet not become to familiar so that we despise His grace? We look to Jesus on the cross. It was at the crucifixion that our great need and God’s great love came together. Jesus paid our debt so that we could live rightly with God. In sincere thanks and gratitude we then extend the kingdom of God by freely offering love and forgiveness to one another. Amen.